Bring back boredom

Have you noticed that boredom has almost completely disappeared from our lives? That good old-fashioned idleness that sometimes led to something worthwhile? But these days it’s simply impossible not to do anything. Even if we’ve got nothing interesting to do.

Timeless masterpieces have been created out of such states of ennui – as long as those who were bored were geniuses, that is. It was one such talent, out of the lack of anything better to do, who went back to the workshop and tinkered around until a turbine had been devised that needed only a quarter of the normal fuel. But this invention didn’t catch on because you couldn’t actually buy fuel in Poland at that time, so there was nothing to save. Another story I once heard was of someone messing up a recipe only to be left with thousands of baskets of rock hard, unappetising croissants. The bakers sat crestfallen at the back of their kitchen thoughtfully gnawing on the horrible stale buns, until one of them had a flash of inspiration. They came up with a catchy name and hired a dozen or so vendors to push carts around the city, d soon people were queuing up for ‘Kraków bagels’. On another occasion, someone was once sitting absent-mindedly poking into the sand with a stick. Inadvertently he drew a shape that later materialised into the now-familiar profile of the Złota 44 building in Warsaw (which eventually took on a form in 3D and around 4,000 times bigger).

Even if you are not blessed with such extraordinary talent, tedium can still be creative. After all, out of sheer boredom some people have picked up a book, followed by another one and another. And then gone on to win a quiz show or, in some cases, become the vice-chancellor of a university. Once upon a time in Poland boredom was inescapable – there were just two TV channels, both of which only showed Soviet films. One day across the ocean around about that time, Mark Zuckerberg’s parents must have also found themselves at a loose end…

Nowadays, no one can lie on the sofa for hours in an old tower block, endlessly staring at the ceiling, and then find that the cracks form the chemical structures of new elements – a discovery that would later result in a Nobel Prize. Now we always have smartphones or tablets at hand to fill in such voids and thus chase away all creative thoughts. Such technological marvels, the stuff of ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’, are often used just to knock coloured balls or blocks with your index finger and thumb. You can also use them to ask your friends ‘wassup?’, even though obviously nothing really is. Because if anything significant ever took place, e.g. if they fell under a tram, they would have already posted a film of the event or would be providing a live report of it on Twitter just to make sure the whole world knew about it.

If greater excitement is needed, you can now turn on the TV and on one of a thousand channels watch a celebrity chef slap someone with a herring, or a farmer pick out which woman from the city he’s going to shack up with. However, there are people who still can’t shake off their stupor – even under the onslaught of all this stimulus. There’s no escape for them. Their desire never to be bored might lead them to snatch bags from old ladies, to start drinking soya latte in hipster bars, or even to join youth organisations of political parties, or worse. One way or another, the fear of being unoccupied for any amount of time is the road to ruin.

So instead of being scared of boredom, we should embrace it - and also, once again, make it creative.